Grantee Spotlight: El Puente
I’m one month into my internship at Brooklyn Community Foundation (yay!), and I went on my first site visit the 19th of July. As a Brooklyn Youth Fellow, I got to see one side of grantmaking by helping in the process of creating, reviewing, and accepting applications for the Youth Voice Awards. Now as a Foundation intern, I get to see another important side of grantmaking: going on site visits to see our grantees programming firsthand, starting with El Puente in Bushwick.
El Puente was first founded in Williamsburg in 1982 by Luis Garden Acosta at the height of violence in the Southside community. Ten years later, in response to a request from Monsignor John Powis, Pastor of St. Barbara's Catholic Church, El Puente expanded to Bushwick.
Today, the Bushwick Leadership Center serves youth ages 13-19 year-round with a holistic approach to leadership development. Activities in the Bushwick Leadership Center include tutoring, homework help, college prep, drama, visual arts (painting, photography), spoken word, health and wellness support, leadership training, community action projects, and internships.
When I went to visit El Puente, the youth were getting ready for their first event of the summer in the “To Hope, With Love” campaign. Since 2013, as a response to a shootout near Hope Ballfield, El Puente’s Bushwick Center youth and staff have organized events in the summer to revitalize the park. The week before, the youth visited Hope and painted over benches and trash cans and installed a temporary art installation to help reinvigorate the park before their first official event. Their first public event, a book fair, happened on July 20th. All of the events are going to eventually lead to a Back to School Fair in August, where participants can get school supplies.
When asked about the strategies to combat the challenges El Puente is facing (such as gentrification in Bushwick and the current political climate), Asenhat Gomez, the program director, shared that El Puente puts youth first. El Puente serves many immigrant youth, some of whom are undocumented. Following last November’s election, many youth were fearful for the future of their homes and families. El Puente served as a safe haven for those youth. Even when El Puente doesn’t have all of the resources the youth need, they will connect them to anyone that might. Seeing the Bushwick Center, it was very clear that the youth were the driving force of the organization.
As I walked around the space, I noticed the walls were covered with art made by the youth. One room in particular had a mural that the youth worked on together. It was inspiring and heartwarming to see the work of the youth on the wall. I wished I was young enough to join El Puente’s programming in Bushwick. I highly recommend this organization to those who are under 20 and are looking for art programs, help with school, or who want to be leaders in their community.
El Puente is holding Summer of Service events every Thursday as part of the “To Hope, With Love” campaign from 1:30-5:00PM at Hope Park on Menahan Street. Learn more